"Please raise your right hand. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" asks the court clerk in authoritative tones that match his demeanor.
"I am sorry," replies the defendant. "I am a Christian. I cannot."
What is this that the defendant is saying? The crowd leans forward to hear what this sudden glitch in the formal routine is all about. The defendant says something about being a Christian and not swearing an oath because Jesus taught that he should not swear. He kindly states that, as a Christian, he does tell the truth. He will affirm to tell the truth all the time, but he will not swear.
Why does this man take issue with this seemingly insignificant and routine practice? He is obeying his Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who said, "But I say unto you, Swear not at all" (Matthew 5:34).
Up to this point, there is much to be appreciated in the courts of this country. The respect, the orderliness, the recognition of God, the desire for honesty, and the very privilege to be heard are all very commendable. But to swear is direct disobedience to the Judge of all the earth. Christians will disobey an earthly court, if need be, to obey the heavenly court.
The judge, however, in this case, recognizes that an affirmation of truth is legal also. The defendant does this gladly because that is what he always does anyway. Thus he avoids disobeying his Lord.
Applications of a judicial oath vary from the courtroom described above. It may be a simple case of signing your name to a statement that says you are swearing an oath. Oath requirements may vary from state to state or especially from nation to nation. In some places the option of an affirmation is not available. But a Christian is not to swear anywhere, anytime. We will show why from the Scriptures, but let us first define what swearing is and what constitutes an oath.
The New Testament Scriptures condemn all forms of swearing. Swearing can mean "to use profane or obscene language or bywords," but the definition that fits our consideration is, "to bind by an oath, or to invoke the name of a sacred being in an oath." A judicial oath is a solemn, and often formal, calling upon God (or a god) to witness to the truth of what one says.
We know that a simple, little word can make a lot of difference at times. Notice preposition by in the Scripture passage in the following paragraph. It clearly illustrates what an oath is all about. The word by in this case means "with the witness or sanction of, or through the agency or instrumentality of."
Jesus said in Matthew 5:33-37, "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old times, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil."
Jesus commands us not only to refrain from swearing by God, but also to refrain from swearing by anything, even our own head. The command is clear: Swear not at all!
To say "I declare by the ground I'm standing on that I am telling the truth" is different than saying "What on earth did I hear?" The first is swearing, but the latter statement is an exclamatory question and is not calling upon something to act as an agency to support the truth of our statement. So we see that a small preposition makes a big difference. It is the difference between swearing and not swearing, which is a matter of importance to the Christian.
It is important to understand what we are actually doing if we swear an oath. The King of kings and Lord of lords will not hold us guiltless if we take His Name in vain or swear in any way.
Consider these Scripture passages on the subject.
"For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips" (Proverbs 8:7).
"Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon" (Matthew 23:16,18-22).
"But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation" (James 5:12).
"And there shall in no wise enter into it [heaven] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27).
"Por without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" (Revelation 22:15).
In the light of these Bible verses, we hold that it is never right to swear. How can someone swear to tell the truth at a given moment and thereby imply that at other times he might not? A Christian, as defined by the Bible, tells the truth all the time! That makes the judicial oath both urmecessary and wrong for the Christian.